Orthopedic Doctor: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become an orthopedic doctor. Learn about education and licensing requirements, job growth and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Orthopedic Doctor?

We need bones to function. We need muscles to make the bones work. Orthopedic doctors specialize working with the musculoskeletal system for disease or injury. Often times medical doctors recommend orthopedic specialist because they need their patients to see them for specialized work. These doctors may be required to surgically set broken bones with braces, pins, splints and/or casts. Like all doctors, orthopedic doctors must earn a medical doctorate and work an internship in orthopedics.

Orthopedic doctors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of disease and injury to the bones, joints and skeletal system. The following chart provides an overview about becoming an orthopedic doctor.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Training Required 2- to 4-year residency
Licensure or Certification All states require doctors to be licensed; board certification is available
Key Responsibilities Examine patients with musculoskeletal diseases and injuries and make diagnoses; perform surgery to correct and repair defects and injury to the joints, ligaments, bones and skeleton
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary (2016) $450,138**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Salary.com

What Will I Do as an Orthopedic Doctor?

If you want to work in orthopedic medicine, you have the option of becoming surgeon. Orthopedic doctors specialize in repairing and preserving the skeletal system from injuries and diseases. You have the opportunity to specialize in a particular area that may interest you, such as pediatric orthopedics, sport medicine, musculoskeletal oncology or reconstructive orthopedics.

You can also specialize in one area of the body, such as the spine, feet or hands. In orthopedic medicine, you repair the bones, as well as work with nerves, ligaments, tendons and joints to promote healing and usage of extremities. If surgery is not your forte, you can work as a physical therapist or sports medicine doctor, where you strengthen an area of the body through exercises, ultrasound and strength training.

How Can I Gain Licensure?

Every state currently requires medical students to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Three sets of exams are required in order to gain national licensure, which you will begin taking during medical school. Upon completion of these exams you are prepared for initial licensure. Upon graduation with a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree, you must complete the final portion of the exam to become nationally licensed doctors.

The American Osteopathic Board of Orthopedic Surgery (AOBOS) can help you with becoming a certified orthopedic surgeon (www.aobos.org). The AOBOS requires you to complete a written, oral and clinical exam, as well as a review based on your charts and practice in a clinical setting. Recertification, which is required every 6-10 years, is available through the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS).

What Salary Can I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor (BLS), orthopedics is one of the most common surgical specialties (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported in May 2015 that the average annual salary for physicians and surgeons was equal to or greater than $197,700 per year. However, this salary can vary greatly depending on location, bonuses and years of experience.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Doctorates are required for all doctors in related medical fields. These careers might include the medical specialties of becoming a surgeon, dentist, optometrist, veterinarian or chiropractor. All of these will require internship in the specialized field. Surgeons can specialize as well in different fields. Dentist could work as general dentist to an orthodontist. Veterinarians can even specialize in working with pets or specific animals like horses only. Even optometrists and chiropractors can specialize and will spend several years working in a clinical setting in their specialties.

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